Recorded on December 30, 2011. Length: 33 Minutes.
JH: Hello, today is December 30, 2011, and I welcome you to Northbrook Voices. It is my pleasure to welcome Elizabeth Wolf to Northbrook Voices, a joint project of the Northbrook Public Library and the Northbrook Historical Society. Elizabeth, we are so glad to have you here to share your memories. I understand you have a special birthday coming up. Would you like to tell us about that?
EW: Well, it is going to be on May 13, 2012, which is Mother’s Day and also my birthday. But the family will celebrate the 12th, the Saturday before.
JH: What is so special about this birthday?
EW: Well, my God, I am going to be 100 years old and I just can’t believe it.
JH: So you were born in 1912 which means that this Village was 11 years old when you were born. Can you tell us a little about where you were born?
EW: I was born in Germany, in ________. Because my father was foreman in a textile factory he got a better position in Oderbach which is near the French border.
JH: You were born in 1912 just before the start of WWI. Do you remember anything about that time?
EW: I was two years old. My father and my brother Frank, may they both rest in peace, went to war. It was a very poor time. I want to say this. We lived close to the textile factory where my father worked so we had to close the windows with black paper. If the sirens blew, we and a few neighbors all came together in our basement. I had a little dolly which was all I had. I forgot my dolly and said I wanted to go upstairs and get her. But you can’t go upstairs anymore. When the sirens were over and we went upstairs, I never got my dolly, it was gone.
JH: Someone came into your house and took your dolly?
EW: No, there were all the neighbors who got together in our house and I tell you it was a rough time. We all had a little garden and whatever you planted, if you didn’t get out at 3 a.m. in the morning it was gone. All the neighbors, no body had anything.
JH: Everybody was hungry.
EW: So, of course, when the war was over, then we happened to find a home in Odebach. This place was called Alfenbach. We got a chance to buy the house in Odebach with a low downpayment and there we stayed until I came to this country.
JH: How many brothers and sisters did you have?
EW: Three brothers, no four brothers and three sisters. It was even larger than that before they died. When we moved to Odebach we had a nice home and a big garden with lots of vegetables and fruits and that’s why I still eat vegetables and fruits. I went to school there. I tell you when we went to school, we had to sit like this.
JH: You had to sit perfectly still.
EW: Perfectly still. At one time I was called to the blackboard and didn’t know, by the way the picture I was to tell on the map. The teacher slapped me and the blood went on me and the blackboard and I was sent home to clean up. Of course, you didn’t complain. My mother cleaned me up and sent me back to school. Just to show you what a rough time it was those days, you didn’t complain, everything was okay. At three o’clock when we got out of school, there were no cookies and when the cabbage grew we pulled them so we had a little something to eat until we got a little something at night.
JH: Now when did you come to America?
EW: I say this first. My brother Frank, rest in peace, visited with his wife in 1936 and the times were rough. So he said to me – would you like to come to America and I said “yes.” So the papers came through and I know I got a paper in 1937. I had to go to the mayor’s office to have my passport stamped. I went to Kaiser____ and it came through my agent. He showed me where I had to go and I knocked and went in. Heil Hitler, it was bad times. He asked what he could do for me. I asked if he would please stamp my passport as I was going to America. He asked me what I was doing going to America – did I not know Hitler needs every able bodied man, woman and child. But he stamped it. And that’s why I am so grateful and thank God everyday. So I went to my agent shaking who opened my passport. He said the mayor signed it, if he hadn’t I would not be able to go. The agent telegraphed my brother and everything took its place. In May, 1937, on my 25th birthday I arrived in New York. Believe you me, I went down and kissed the ground. So from there I had to read and find my train to Chicago and my brother and sister too, who later passed away, greeted me. Then things began to look up. Two years later I married my Emil and do you know, my Emil comes from a neighbor town to where I come from. Mine is called Odebach and his is Alfenbach, within walking distance, a half an hour apart.
JH: And you had to come all the way to Chicago to meet.
EW: I didn’t even know him. He came in 1920, right after the war. He was six months in the war. He happened to have an aunt in Chicago and she let him come. He knew my brother and heard from another fellow from his home town. He asked my brother if he could meet his sister when she comes. The main thing was to ask about the situation with what was going on. What was going on and he had it all wrong. So I told him the facts – what the situation was. He got in trouble with his other buddies who didn’t believe what he said. There are other stories connected with that. Frank didn’t believe me either. Emil came to visit to see me and two years later we got married.
JH: When were you married? How many years were you married?
EW: 1939. I think about 63 years in all. We rented for one year. Then through friends of his we got this home. Emil said we couldn’t pay for it. In 1937 there were small salaries. I said we were going to take it no matter what and we did it and we lived 47 years in the same house in Elmhurst.
JH: And you have children?
EW: Marian and Charlie. Mrs. Washer . . . Marian Washer, and my son lives in Minnesota.
JH: Your daughter Marian lives here in Northbrook.
EW: Off Shermer on Lee Road. Many times we have walked there even when we lived right here on Cherry Lane.
JH: So you lived all those years in Elmhurst and raised your children there and then moved to Northbrook?
JH: You moved to the apartments on Cherry Lane?
EW: Yes, Marian got us that. It was wonderful with the park close by and the Jewel right across the street. Do you remember that?
JH: I do.
EW: A nice business section, two banks, two grocery stores, Sunset in where that bank is now. But now it has changed. Things has changed like everything else. My happiest years. Then, of course, Emil got sick and he is gone since 1997. He was 97 when he died.
JH: He was much older than you?
EW: I was 13 years younger. And you know, many a times when he got sick. I did everything for him, the wheelchair, everything. He cried, “Maw, you are so good to me.” I would say, Emil, if I were as old as you, we both would be crying. I did the cooking and he enjoyed it. I still think back, we had good years together. And I would do it all over again if I had to. Both children were born in Elmhurst. We didn’t have any grocery stores around there except when he got off the train he could pick up a few things. Had to walk with the children, I put them in the buggy, two miles one way. Going to the park in the summertime, I took something along and let them go on the swing. To me, those are beautiful memories.
JH: So you are glad you came to America?
EW: That was a blessing and that’s why I am so grateful and thank you to God still today. You know times change and families change. When Emil died you have to carry on. Don’t give up. That is my way of saying all the time.
JH: You no longer live in the Cherry Lane apartments. Where do you live now?
EW: 1000 Waukegan Road.
JH: In Crestwood Place?
EW: Crestwood Place and my number is C-306, the third floor.
JH: Do you like living at Crestwood Place?
EW: Oh my God – it is best place. I have such a lovely room – a big bedroom, a nice front room and bathroom. My kitchen is so that I don’t have to walk unless I have to get something, I get my cane. I do my cooking and baking. You know my foot doctor was here this morning and I had the cookies out so I suggested he try them. He said they “melt in your mouth and could he have another?” I only had a few because my pinochle friends were here yesterday. I packed up those on the plate for the doctor. Anyway, I am happy and love to be with people. We have a lot of people here who are handicapped and give them cookies I bake. That’s what life is all about – helping each other and being good to one another.
JH: I first met you when you used to walk through the park, the Village Green Park.
EW: Emil and I walked there in the morning and the afternoon. This has been my home now. Crestwood Place – I’ve been here for three or 3.5 years now. One day Marian called me to get dressed so she could take me to Crestwood Place. How many times I had walked around there and seen the people sitting outside. When Marsha showed us this place I told Marian to go and pay the money – that is the place I want. Then we had to clean out the apartment. You know how good Marian and Richard were. When it was time to move in, they took care of everything, putting it in its place and washing the dishes and everything. I just had to walk in. That’s how good my children are.
JH: And you have grandchildren and great-grandchildren?
JH: Tell me about them.
EW: Alan Washer, I think is the oldest – 47 now. He adopted two children. Eric at Christmas time was 15 years old and his sister is going to be 11 in June. I told her I would not be able to be there for the Bat Mitzva. She said – Grandma you have to be there. They are such lovely children. Alan’s brother is a pastry baker and has two girls. Jordan was 15 and Sidney 14. I went to three Bat Mitzvas and one Bar Mitzva. And now little Alexandra will be 11. Well, we take one day at a time and pray to God and hope that all is going to be well whatever. At Christmas time or whenever we get together – for Christmas tree trimming we get together by Richard and I sit there and they say – Hi, Grandma, how are you and give me a big hug. Oh, that’s life. Now I am great-grandma to my grandson’s boy and they are going to come for my birthday so I get to see him. My sink is here at the counter and the stove and all the pictures, quite a few that I got. I just pasted them up there as I haven’t got frames anymore to put them on the wall. So you do what you can and do what you enjoy. That has been my life and I love people.
JH: You do love people and people love you.
EW: Thank you. And you know that by the way we get together – Dora, Rita, Debby next door and I have good people from the church who send me a poinsettia. With a cane, I am not too sure. I feel I had good people who took me to church for a long time but I don’t want them to feel responsible if something should happen. The best is to be at home. We have a good church service on the TV.
JH: Did you belong to a church here in town?
EW: We belonged to the Village Church. The last time I was there was this Spring. One friend I have known for a long time, their boy had confirmation. That was the last time I went. It was a nice day. The pastor was so happy to see me and they have been visiting me, too. We keep in touch and that is a wonderful thing.
JH: Tell me a little bit about your feelings about Northbrook.
EW: All I can say is – it is the best. And I am not kidding. When Jewel was there, they were always friendly and now, or course, Sunset and I know Ronnie and Chris. The rest of them they are all gone as they have so many branches. About two months ago it was a nice day and Ronnie was there. He asked – how old are you going to get? Well, anyway, it is wonderful that you get greeted from the old timers who remember me but they have a lot of young people. I tell you what, whatever I do go shopping my mind is on that and when they come closer and we talk by the water fountain where they have the chairs you get a conversation no matter what. When you walk home there are people on the street who greet you. There are people who live right across. When Debbie who has twin boys are out, it isn’t hard for me. I do have to tell you something – when Emil and I would go for walks, right after breakfast or whatever, and the people would work in their yards. I would say good morning or how wonderful that looks and he would walk on and after 3 or 4 times he says, do you have to talk to everybody. I say – Emil, just let me go. I love people and when something looks nice you give them a little compliment. It is my life.
JH: Absolutely. You have had a good life, a very good life.
EW: I have. After all that. Because, again, I don’t know what would have happened if the war starts and they take us in. I lost two brothers and my brother-in-law in the war.
JH: The second world war?
EW: This one with Hitler, yeah. And the people he sent. He did a lot of sending. Times go by. Times change. And I tell you the way they have changed now, I couldn’t handle the computers or even those phones. I think I don’t want to and that’s a good excuse.
JH: Maybe that’s a good excuse. We’ve been talking nearly ½ hour. Is there anything you want to tell people either about your life or about your philosophy on life or about Northbrook that you want people to know.
EW: About Northbrook – like I said – no matter where I went, people were nice, friendly and always talk. I still go to Ida’s for my hair once every three months or so I need a permanent so it is easier for me to handle. They always have been wonderful and now when I come in they ask – Are you still living? At Phillip’s shoe store the one lady left, we always chatted. They greet me and bring me to the bench to sit down and this and that. What else can I say. When I go to Rosen’s, the eye doctor, there is wonderful service and everything. I had both eyes – cataracts removed. At Georgie’s, sometimes Marian and I go shopping and we stop there for lunch there. At Hallmark’s, Joan and Dale, I don’t know if you know them, they greet me so warmly. I know I know you from walking and your young son, I wouldn’t know him anymore. Northbrook is a good place to live. I would recommend anyone to come and live here if they can, except that the condo is not sold yet. But the times may change. Your health means everything. They ask me if I have a backache or anything. I really have to say no. I enjoy getting up and I have my three meals a day – my breakfast, dinner and maybe when I go home I have chicken soup – I made a lot of it. I enjoy eating and I don’t mind fixing it either.
JH: Elizabeth, thank you for coming to be a part of Northbrook Voices. Your comments and memories will add a unique perspective on life in our Village. Thank you so much.
EW: I am happy that I could come.
Published in Chicago Tribune on July 25, 2012
Elizabeth Wolf, nee Strunz, of Northbrook formerly of Elmhurst, recently celebrated her 100th Birthday on Mother’s Day with her family and friends. Beloved wife of 58 years of the late Emil Wolf; loving mother of Charles (Theresa) Wolf and Marion (Richard) Washer; cherished grandmother of Alan (Maria) Washer, Michael Washer and Kenneth (Megan) Wolf; proud great grandmother of Jordyn and Sydney Washer, Erik and Alexandra Washer and Emma Wolf; Elizabeth was preceded in death by six siblings. Funeral service will be held Thursday, July 26, 2012 at 10 a.m. at Village Presbyterian Church, 1300 Shermer Rd. (at Church St.), Northbrook, IL 60062. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, 11 S. La Salle, Suite 1800, Chicago, IL 60603 or Village Presbyterian Church. Funeral information 847-998-1020.